Confined horses tend to display undesirable behaviors and are more at risk of developing intestinal or musculoskeletal problems.

When we think of a contented horse, in our mind’s eye we see him grazing in an expansive pasture, surrounded by fields of green and other equine companions. But for some horse owners, this vision might also appear as an eager equine head popping over a stall door, attentive to its human entering the barn.

What inspires the practice of housing a horse in a stall? It might have begun as an attempt to provide shelter from adverse weather or to protect the hair coat from sun and dust. Such seclusion also allows a horse to eat without other horses interfering. Stall rest prescribed for an injured horse might persist despite full recovery. And confinement conveniently keeps a horse contained and ready to ride, rather than requiring a hike across the field to catch him.

Whatever the reason, modern horses spend more time confined to stalls or small paddocks, with results that aren’t necessarily in the best interests of health or mind.

The Stall Environment

Without inhabiting a stall, it is easy for us to ignore some microclimate effects of an enclosed space. Frederik Derksen, DVM, PhD, Dip. ACVIM, of Michigan State University’s Pulmonary Laboratory in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, has investigated the effects of such an environment on equine airways.

While viruses and bacteria pose risks to airway health, environmental exposure to particulates dispersed from feed, bedding, footing materials, and other sources (i.e., gas or diesel exhaust)